Sunday 3 July 2016

Escape to the Riviera
Jules Wake
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Extract - Chapter 6

Carrie inched forward, not quite knowing what to expect beyond, taking a leap of faith rather like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia, except she had no idea what was on the other side. Luckily the smooth tarmac continued and the road curved downward in a wide sweep before coiling back upwards. Solar lights lit the road like sentries posted at regular intervals along the way.
‘Whoa,’ Jade leaned forward, her nose almost on the dashboard.
‘That’s Marguerite’s little place?’
‘Erm . . . I think so. She was quite vague. Talked about the view a lot.’
‘You mean you heard the word ‘free’,’ said Jade laughing. ‘Mum, that is so typical.’
‘Now let’s not get carried away. That might be the main house and we’re in an annexe or something. I know she said it was all on one floor.’
‘All on one floor is somewhat different from a bungalow, Mum!’
Carrie stopped the car and all three of them stared at the house ahead of them, sprawled across the top of the hill in a halo of light, looking rather like something out of a Bond film.
Angela sighed with happiness, or perhaps relief, that they weren’t staying in a dilapidated cottage falling down around their ears. Even Jade, never short of words, stared, drinking in the sight in wide-eyed silence.
Carrie drove carefully up the hill in second gear, not wanting to miss a moment of the delicious sense of anticipation. The little car wound through the landscaped grounds, lit here and there with uplighters, showing off ornamental grasses inter­spersed with gravel paths and evenly planted bay trees in huge pots, like sentries watching over the land.
It seemed rather untidy to park the poor relation of a car in front of this glamorous house. There was probably a garage for the sexy convertibles or huge four-wheeled things that ought to be here. As Carrie got out of the car, stretching her legs with catlike satisfaction, the scent of herbs filled the warm night. Sod the car, they were here and had possibly fallen into the lap of luxury. Whether they were in the gardener’s cottage or the maid’s flat, judging by the size and stature of this house, they were going to be alright.
Two enormous terracotta pots flanked the front double doors, twin concierges welcoming them, which might have been slightly intimidating if it weren’t for the whimsical touch of tiny fairy lights threaded through the miniature olive trees in each one. Carrie smiled, it softened the rather grand and very contemporary landscaping along the rest of the front of the house, where artfully grouped smaller pots held a variety of precision-trimmed shrubs, scenting the air with a cocktail of fragrances including rosemary, thyme and bay.
Her face broke into a broad smile as she nudged her sister.
‘I think this might do nicely. What do you reckon?’
‘I had no idea it was going to be like this.’ Angela twisted her hands together, as if she couldn’t quite believe it either.
They stood together examining the house. ‘I love the roof. Terracotta tiles. So Mediterranean. So romantic. I have a good feeling about this.’
‘It looks wonderful.’ Carrie squeezed her sister’s arm.
 ‘For Pete’s sake are we going inside or not? Listen to you. It’s a house. It’s flipping gorgeous.’
Angela rummaged in her bag, pulling out the precious envelope, crumpled from the dozens of times she checked it was still there during the journey. Opening it, she pulled out the keys.
She held the key gripped between twisted thumb and finger, eyeing the lock with the intense concentration of a surgeon about to make the first incision. Jade and Carrie hung back with practised patience, determinedly not looking at each other. It was a familiar routine, where neither acknowledged the slow, painful attempts that any fine motor skills demanded or made any attempt to speed up the process. Although Angela’s rheumatoid arthritis limited her in many ways, she never complained and had never once said, ‘why me and not you’ to Carrie.
The door opened, light streaming out and Angela stood poised on the threshold, a triumphant smile on her face.
‘Looks like we’re in the right place.’
They crowded in through the door, their feet echoing on the polished marble floor, blinking in the light thrown by a huge dandelion clock of a lighting fitting, with what looked like hundreds of brilliant bulbs. For a second they stared around the high-ceilinged hallway, larger than the whole of their semi-detached home.
On a console table of painted wood, in a cracked glass vase, spilled a blousy, extravagant bouquet of flowers, a white card tucked into the foliage.
Angela plucked the card and read out aloud.
Dear Angela and family, you are most welcome to La Maison de Clemont. Please do make yourselves at home. The fridge is fully stocked to get you started but please do let Marisa, our much-loved maid, know of your preferences and she will shop accordingly. She’ll pop in to say hello. I hope you have a happy and joyous holiday here and I look forward to hearing all about it on your return.
With much love

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